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  Cross-modal sensory integration for motor decision making.

   School of Pharmacy (Medway Campus)

  Dr S Koutsikou,  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Dr Koutsikou’s research group in collaboration with Dr Tobias von der Haar (School of Biosciences, University of Kent) would like to invite applications from outstanding and highly motivated candidates, worldwide, who wish to develop and advance neuroscience research. This is a self-funded PhD position available from May 2023.

Background to the project

All animals need to make the ‘right’ motor decisions in order to adapt and survive in their environment. To do this they must detect, integrate, and process sensory information within the brain. Mammalian research has shown that motor decision-making involves incoming sensory signals building slowly and variably to a neuronal excitability threshold prior to motor initiation. However, the complex neuronal circuits of the mammalian brain that are involved in motor decision and initiation are not well-understood.

Our recent studies have highlighted the possibility of studying the origin of the underlying neuronal mechanisms of motor decision making in the Xenopus laevis tadpole. Skin-touch-evoked responses in tadpoles’ hindbrain present a similar, to the mammalian brain, build-up of excitation before motor initiation. Therefore, in this animal the decision to swim shares fundamental characteristics with mechanisms proposed for motor decision-making in higher vertebrates. We will take advantage of this finding and the experimental amenability of the tadpole to address the overarching aim of this project, to investigate where and how sensory inputs are integrated to allow the tadpole to make the simple decision to swim or not to swim.

This project is a joint venture between Drs. Stella Koutsikou and Tobias von der Haar and will involve extracellular and whole-cell electrophysiology to characterise the firing properties and synaptic connections of the neurons in the sensory pathways where multi-sensory integration occurs. Furthermore, RNA sequencing and confocal microscopy will be used to identify the molecular and anatomical signatures of such neurons.

The successful candidate will be based at Medway School of Pharmacy (Medway campus) however, they will be expected to spend considerable amount of time with Dr Tobias von der Haar’s research group at Canterbury campus. We are looking for candidates with a keen interest in neuroscience coupled with a strong undergraduate background in Neuroscience, Physiology or Life Sciences at a minimum of upper second-class UK Bachelor’s level or overseas equivalent.

Biological Sciences (4) Medicine (26) Veterinary Sciences (35)

Funding Notes

The project is a self-funded opportunity available to both Home/EU and International students. Applicants must have access to funding to cover tuition fees, living costs and any related project costs (i.e. bench fees).


1. Larbi et al. 2022 Front. Neural Circuits
2. Messa & Koutsikou 2021 BioRxiv
3. Messa & Koutsikou 2019 Proc. Physiol. Soc. 43: PC240
4. Roberts et al. 2019 Proc. Royal Soc. B 286:
5. Koutsikou et al. 2018 J.Physiol 596: 6219-33

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